Congratulations Class of 2013

I had a stark realization yesterday morning while routinely unrolling the morning Gazette before work. Pictures of cap and gowns, diplomas and quotes from inspirational commencements speeches were displayed prominently on the front page and Cities section of my local paper. Another group of eager, confident young people had stepped off the stage with glorious dreams of success. My first thought went to the new graduates moving out into the hazy abyss known to many as the “real world.” Are they ready? Have they been prepared? Underneath these questions was a much deeper fear. Am I ready for them?

Recalling my last 12 months after college is strange and bittersweet. I feel their breath on the back of my neck as they sprint forward along the next leg of their journey. How far have I ran since graduation? Am I on the right path? I looked up wise words for the graduates:

Katelyn Tsukada’s Five Practical Tips Post-College:

Never judge your success based on your peers or your bank account. Comparisons are inevitable but remember your self worth, job title and future dreams are not defined by your surroundings.

Read often. With a completed undergraduate degree, assigned readings and lengthy PDFs become things of the past. It’s much easier to add names to a “Must Read” list than to cross any off. As TV show re-runs become more appealing than a bestselling novel, have a cup of tea and make time for a book.

Remain in touch but stay present. Your best friends no longer live one door over or across the hall. Some went home, got jobs on the opposite coast, or packed a suitcase for an overseas adventure. The Internet allows you to stay connected with these close friends easier than ever before. Just remember that your future life will attract equally inspirational and life-long friendships. Keep all doors open.

Learn to cook (and bake). Mac and cheese is super convenient but even the best boxed variety isn’t appropriate for dinner guests or parent drop-in visits. Begin to accumulate reliable recipes for a delicious home-cooked meal and freshly baked desserts. You’ll look like a superstar the next time a new friend invites you to a potluck or picnic.

Enjoy being alone. Making friends, going on dates and planning movie nights will certainly be harder after the college campus environment. Your next couple days, months and years will inevitably include mornings and nights alone. Savor these moments. Try a beginner meditation class or take a walk around your neighborhood. Reintroduce yourself to the uniqueness of you.

Be wary of the question “Why bother?” Life isn’t always about the life-changing mission or the personal career choice. Monumental decisions are backed up and followed by innumerable smaller choices like reading the daily news and baking late at night to surprise a co-worker on her birthday. Think about others often.

Congratulations Class of 2013 and don’t fear. The best is still yet to come.

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Finding a New Occupation

The morning after college graduation, I packed up the remaining items still lingering in my bedroom, closet, and refrigerator before hugging quick goodbyes and heading home. There had been little to no time with which to process the last 24 hours: picnics, final grades, department lunches, and graduation itself complete with unyielding summer heat and 800+ black mortar boards suspended against the clear blue sky. We listened to our president congratulate us, his words reflected in the beaming smiles of our parents sitting nearby. There was a flurry of clapping, sitting, standing and clutching our shiny new diplomas as we moved into the position of Bucknell alumni. 

We smiled for what seemed like days, posed arm in arm those who mattered most in these short four years. People who evolved from nervous freshmen strangers to close friends and devoted confidants. I glanced hesitantly from face to face, their eyes reflecting my own dazed bewilderment. Had this moment come already? We were still recovering from Senior Week, a haze of lazy beach days, strong mixed drinks and skinny-dipping escapades. The sheer weight and finality of graduation was light against the horizon that had not yet dawned. No one had mentally prepared for the last memory of college life. Not a chance.

So I sat in the waiting room on Monday morning filling out new patient forms and pretending my life was going on as usual. Just another summer break. I scribbled in health insurance information, name, and date of birth as the rain beaded along the windows outside. Suddenly I froze, unable to answer the question just after the phone number, before the contact information. The line read: Occpation ___________. 

Now in another circumstance, it would be humorous to note that the individual writing up these new patient form had an occupation that did not include spelling or spell-check. At that moment however, I could only look blankly at the paper trying desperately to think of a suitable answer. When that failed I did what any self-respecting college graduate would do. Ask Mom.

Me: “Mom, what do I put under this line?”

Mom: “Put student of course. Wait….Oh.”

And there it was. Not 24 hours after graduation and already I was confronted with the very apparent reality that I was no longer a student. I had been unfairly accosted without any defense against the form’s incorrectly spelled inquiry. What is my new identity? Where do I belong? 

Transitions are never easy and I expect questions like occpation will continue in varying degrees over the next couple months. The life of a college graduate lacks all elements of routine, tradition and certainty. After high school, I followed my four-year plan along a paved road of sophomoric confidence. But that road has ended and I am left standing at the shore, beyond which lies an endless abyss of water and waves.

I waver unsteadily, counting the days when the sunlight touches the horizon and I can call out, “Land ho!” 

Final Finals Week

The end of the semester is a whirlwind. The last day of classes, a time for celebration, is short-lived. Finals week looms overhead like a dark thundercloud that releases a torrent of battered GPAs and hastily packed belongings. Students spend time hunched over flashcards or perched for hours in the corners of the library, face illuminated by gray computer screens. Long sleepless nights are fueled by espresso shots, unplanned naps, and fierce adrenaline only the fear of a failing grade can produce. As exams finish and the days accumulate, short tearful goodbyes are heard through the halls and across the quad. A common phrase “the last” becomes attached to thoughts and actions so seemingly mundane activities hold increased importance. The last time I’ll see you before going abroad. The last time we’ll live on the same freshmen hall. The last time I’ll eat in the caf.

I almost missed the subtle difference between the end of this semester and semesters in the past. The papers, exams, and expectations were the same. The cups of coffee and time spent furiously revising the perfect conclusion paragraph reflected any other finals week. I watched my underclassmen friends pack up their SUVs and move futons from their cramped dorm rooms into storage units for the summer months. Yet whenever I attached “the last” to a completed activity, the weight of my words hung heavy  as they slipped into the air.

Approximately 43 minutes ago, I emailed my final assignment off to my professor.

“I have attached my personal reflection. Thanks for a great semester. -Katelyn”

And that was it. I would be lying if I told you a fanfare sounded or a chorus of voices floated through my open bedroom window. The only confirmation I received signifying the end of my 19 year academic career was a Gmail text box. Your message has been sent. Time to move on.

Tomorrow I will pack up and travel with four best friends to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a 7-day extravaganza affectionately known as “Senior Week.” This migration happens across the campus as people pack up and drive down south for one last hurrah. This is the time for reliving the past four years of our undergraduate experience with strong drinks and stronger friendships. It will be glorious and fleeting– a beautiful sunset that disappears as soon as the camera lens clicks into focus.

So bottoms up to the last of many things and the first of many more. Image  

Beginning of the End

Take down the 2011 calendar. Rip out notes from last semester’s notebooks. Spend $200 on new books from Amazon. That’s right folks– it’s time for another semester. The beginning of the end.

My “seniority” is reflected as I recount my academic stories to new freshmen tour guides. It stares at me during a discussion of the senior piece for the Dance Company’s spring concert. And each time I write the date and year, I am reminded that my peers and I represent the Class of 2012. When did I become a senior in college? It’s a question I imagine most of my classmates are asking themselves tonight, just a day before their last first day of class. The seniors seemed important four years ago. And somehow taller. They had infinite wisdom about the college environment, social norms and ways to reach the best job opportunities. Yet here I am on the verge of graduation just as confused as ever.

The Bucknell Magazine published a small article about me in the Winter 2012 edition that was stuffed into my campus mailbox this morning. I had almost forgotten about my brief interview and photo shoot last semester, posing awkwardly on various parts of campus which included the quiet section of the library. Students got a nice little study break while they watched me attempt a variety of smiles from my position on the large orange sofa. Go back to work, folks. Nothing to see here. 

Bucknell Magazine — Winter 2012

’Ray Bucknell, p.15

STUDENT PROFILE: KATELYN TSUKADA ’12

“Layovers don’t count,” says Katelyn Tsukada ’12, who notes that her father has been
to more than 50 countries, and she would like to match that number.
Tsukada, a tour guide and the outreach coordinator for the Bucknell Dance
Company, started a blog last spring to chart the beginning of her travels and to keep in
touch with family and friends when she entered the sustainability program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Denmark.

Along with travel, environmental studies have remained important to Tsukada,
who received funding from the Bucknell Public Interest Program (BPIP) for internships
to focus on environmental law and policy for two consecutive summers. In Washington,
D.C., she conducted research at an independent think-tank, the Environmental Law
Institute. Last summer, at the Law of Nature Foundation in the Philippines, she examined
environmental law and advocacy, while focusing on decreasing fossil fuel and on marine
protected areas for the coral reefs. Tsukada is planning the first environmental conference
in the spring at the Bucknell Environmental Center. Her goal is to invite six to eight
different schools to talk about their campus initiatives with the hope of taking away new
ideas.

“Travel is all around us,” Tsukada says, as she notes how her travel blog has
evolved from new cities and food to parallels between culture and environmental
practices and to more recent adventures, for example, with the LSAT and with
vegetarianism. Recently, Tsukada read that Japan is offering 10,000 free airline tickets to
boost the tourism. The stipulation is that you have to have a blog. “My new goal with my
blog is to win a ticket. It’s a dream, but it would be perfect to travel and learn more about
Japanese culture and what it means to be Japanese-American,” says Tsukada.

— Kelly Anzulavich